How many of these statements apply to you?
“I know I’ll be successful…”
“I believe I can get a promotion…”
“I feel comfortable standing up and speaking in front of a large audience…”
“I feel sure of myself when speaking in meetings…”
“At work I believe that people will take my points seriously…”
“I am comfortable being the center of attention…”
“I can be fully assertive when it’s required of me…”
“I know when to say ‘no’ to others so that I don’t end up taking on more than I can handle…”
“I rarely worry about what others may think of me…”
“I will speak up when I’m unhappy about something…”
“I can accept a compliment gracefully…”
Saying “yes” to many of these may indicate a high level of professional confidence.
I have seen a lot of tweets lately asking for resources on “women’s professional confidence.” This intrigues me because I have been reading more about how a lack of professional confidence undermines women in the workplace, in salary negotiations, in promotional opportunities and in defining a future career trajectory.
Professional confidence can mean many things but I understand it to be when your appraisal of your work is congruent with others’ perception of your work. It means self-understanding, a willingness to advocate for yourself and being willing to take calculated risks in order to achieve professional gain.
In a Chronicle article from October 2011 the author discussed why female engineering majors often switch their area of study during college:
“ Specifically, women lack “professional role confidence,” a term that describes, loosely, a person’s sense that he or she belongs in a certain field. The term encompasses more than mastery of core intellectual skills. It also touches on a person’s confidence that he or she has the right expertise for a given profession, and that the corresponding career path meshes with his or her interests and values.”
This article reiterates that it has little to do with skill but more to do with self-awareness, belief in oneself and a limitless sense of possibility. A lack of professional confidence can be paralyzing. It can manifest itself in several ways including not exploring opportunities for growth at work, being hesitant in taking on new projects, or not advocating for yourself.
Some women may be conditioned from childhood to think that it’s not appropriate to be a risk-taker or boldly ask for what you want. Boys may simultaneously be rewarded for their “initiative” which sends mixed messages to children.
“Women are not taught to exhibit self-confidence, and in fact are taught the opposite,” says author Liza Donnelly. “Women often wait to be discovered, wait to be called upon. Asking questions, providing ideas and offering to be the person for the job are all things that we, as women, often wait for. But this only holds us back. Men, on the other hand, generally don’t hold their breath to be chosen. They tend towards the “my opinion is needed here” attitude, continues Donnelly. It’s an attitude that everyone should possess, and luckily, it’s one that is learnable.
How can women build their professional confidence? Some things to consider:
1) Dare each day to try something new: Confidence improves when you step outside of your comfort zone and take calculated risks. The successes that result from this bravery teach us that it is OK to navigate uncertainty which leads to increased confidence.
2) Count how many times you speak in a meeting: Are you sharing your voice? Do you speak up and advocate for yourself and others in meetings? Get into the habit of contributing regularly.
3) Connect with women who emulate professional confidence: You are the company you keep. Are you surrounding yourself with people who demonstrate professional confidence? How can you learn from their strategies in the workplace?
4) Ask, ask, ask: Routinely not asking for what you want or need can become a pattern that can limit your opportunities in the workplace. What is the worst that can happen? You will feel better about asking even if it does not result in the outcome that you were hoping for.
5) Advocate for yourself once a week: It doesn’t matter if it is a big or small thing. Just get into the habit of asking yourself what you want—“I want to speak out in our team meeting about…” or “I am going to make a case for why we need an additional staff member…” or “I am going to ask about using flex time for the next month”…just be mindful of what you want to ask and do it. Practice makes perfect!
6) Moving past professional failures: We all have times in our careers where we miss the mark. Having professional confidence means that you don’t let those failures define you and that you work through them, find closure and continue to have faith in your own abilities.
Women who want to blaze a trail are often most susceptible to a lack of professional confidence. According to author and speaker Tara Sophia Mohr, the voice of self-doubt is about a persons’ “inner critic” coming out.
“Did you know that the more you are pursuing a unique, authentic, fulfilling path, the more likely you are to battle with a vocal inner critic? When we are living ho-hum lives, safe in the status quo, the inner critic tends to get quiet. When we contemplate change, share our unique ideas, or go for our dreams, the inner critic speaks up,” said Mohr.
I have definitely had times where I bit my tongue when I should have spoken up. Afterwards, I have asked myself why that happened and what prevented me from sharing my voice. It usually came down to two things—fear and uncertainty. Fear that my idea would be dismissed. Uncertainty of the reaction from others at the table.
What I realize now is that it’s ok for my idea to be dismissed—I can separate that from being personally dismissed. The potential reaction from others (which I always imagine to be worse than they actually are) is not a good enough reason to keep silent.
Want to know more? Check out these resources.
What barriers are preventing you from achieving professional confidence?
What strategies do you suggest to increase professional confidence?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!
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